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  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 6:08am
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2012, 7:14am

HK must keep an open mind on a more open border

Peter Kammerer says opening our door wider to mainland visitors is to be welcomed, once we look past the bigoted claims


Peter Kammerer is a long-time columnist and commentator for the SCMP. He has received recognition for his writing at the Hong Kong news Awards, the annual Human Rights Press Awards and from the Society of Publishing in Asia. Before moving to Hong Kong in 1988, he worked on newspapers in his native Australia.  

Call Hong Kong an international city? The small-town mentality of some people is so Lilliputian that there are times when I have my doubts. As with the relaxing of entry permits for non-residents of six mainland cities, Shenzhen among them. The cry from the narrow-minded among us is spine-chilling: Our wonderful, special city is about to be despoiled and made unliveable by millions of second- or even third-rate no-hopers.

Dare I say that I have heard the same scaremongering as long as I have lived here. Back in the 1980s, the description applied to anyone living north of the Shenzhen River. Mainlanders were our poor cousins and backward to boot; if allowed to come to Hong Kong, they were likely to work illegally, deceive and steal. Whenever I went to Guangdong and beyond, I certainly found a less glitzy world, but its people were friendly, decent and honest.

Move forward two-and-a-half decades and mainland Chinese cannot be looked down on. Their spending power is the reason our economy is healthy. If we hadn't started opening our doors wide to them in the wake of the Sars outbreak in 2003, Hong Kong would be struggling for direction and in danger of decline. Yet, the voices of derision continue, criticising values, cleanliness, politeness and even fashion sense.

Now, if all that wasn't enough, the detractors say an even worse class of locust is about to descend. The new rules taking effect this month allow Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents to get multi-entry permits without having to go to their home provinces to apply. About 16 million more in Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin will be eligible for single-entry permits. What sets them apart from present mainland tourists is they are likely to be factory workers and less well-heeled - and, in the eyes of objectors, prone to work illegally, deceive and steal.

To make matters worse, they will want to do their everyday shopping here, which will affect the price and availability of daily necessities. Our public transport will be jam-packed and streets made unsanitary. It's all so familiar - this is what was said when mainlanders first began arriving in numbers.

I wonder how aware the people making these claims are that Hong Kong allows visa-free entry for lengthy periods to visitors from far less wealthy places. Entry of up to three months is given to tourists from Gambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, which have per capita incomes far below the mainland's. If those so worried are to be believed, there is surely a greater risk of citizens from these countries causing trouble. Yet there are no calls for quota or monitoring systems.

Those so fearful of mainland hordes seem to believe that Hong Kong is a nirvana, a place so special that it has to be protected. I hate to break it to them, but beyond our public transport system, country parks and compactness, it doesn't offer much that can't be found elsewhere. Globalisation means the world also has a wide range and choice. Not only that, criminals aside, it is not in our interests to keep out anyone wanting to spend money or do business. That's what being an international city is about.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post


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This article is now closed to comments

Kevin Lau
In the past few years, the number of visitors from mainland is surging. The vast of mainland visitors is a two side blade for Hong Kong. As we known, the visitors bring extensive economic benefit to local business sectors, such as retail, catering and jewelry sector. It is not doubt, the influx of visitors have been boosting and stabilizing Hong Kong’s economy among the global financial turmoil.
However, some side effects have been arising from the influx of visitors. As we known, the mainland visitors have huge demand for commodities, jewelries and luxury goods. Definitely, they bring significant profit to the businessmen. On the contrary, they bring plague to the locals. It is due to their huge demand of commodities, jewelries and luxury goods have triggered a rising inflation to the locals. The rising inflation is the main factor for undermining the living standard of locals. Moreover, the influx of visitor has stretched Hong Kong's infrastructure and resources. The locals have to vie with the mainland visitors for infrastructures and resources. For instance, the local residents of Sheung Shui have to vie with the visitors for commodities and transport. Inevitably, the locals deem the mainland visitors as competitors, even worse as invaders.
Undoubtedly, our city needs the mainland visitors to boost economy. However, our government has to strike a balance between economic benefit and the locals’ living. HongKongers need to keep an open eye on a more open border.
i dont want to dispute the fact that we have some resources issues. my Mom was not well and had to get medical attention immediately. her docter told her that all private hospitals on the HK island were full. he told us to go to QM. so she did spend a few days at QM, which was cheap. I pass by Causeway Bay a few times a day and it is always crowded. Having said that, I think we have to have an open mind on mainland tourists. For a reference, London has 30 million visitors a year, HK has 42 milion, of which 28 million are from Mainland [2011 stat].
Mr. Krammerer. You probably live in the mid-levels or somewhere where you have plenty of space to walk in nearby vicinity with cleaner air to breathe.
Most of us middle class Hong Kongers are now subject to living in over crowded areas where we have to wait 30 minutes in line at a local supermarket. We DO NOT deny that the Chinese spending power has helped our economy. But there has to be a balance. Now our limits are just being crossed. I have resided here for 31 years, and I have personally witnessed the decline in the quality of life. I cannot afford to buy a home and I am an investment banking professional. Something is really wrong here.
Mr Kammerer: Hong Kong is indeed a special place. Other than Macau, it is the only PRC district where open dissent is tolerated. This means misguided policies in education and taxation (remember Henry Tang's attempt at introducing a GST?) can be stopped by public protests. Try that in Shenzhen.
Also, the PRC govt has proven ineffective at regulating safety in basic food-products such as milk powder. This has created a skewed cross-border economy which has had a negative effect on Hong Kong's public transport and immigration infrastructure.
Comparing the mainland residents of today with those you met in the 1980s is a straw-man argument. Much of China has changed drastically since then, especially in the areas of wealth and consumerism.
Your argument does not hold up to critical analysis, but more to the point, I suggest you speak with some residents of Sheng Shui about what they witness on a daily basis, how it affects their lives, and how they feel about the HK govt's (now scrapped) scheme on Shenzhen's 4.1 million non-permanent residents being allowed multi-entry permits to the HKSAR.
absolutely spot on
I think the author has missed the point. Think of Hong Kong as the house you live in. Would you keep an "open mind" if 6 guys from the countryside suddenly moved in with you? Hong Kong is international for many, but for the majority... It's "local"... It's "HOME".
Let it sink in before writing another article of absolute drivel.
I guess if this house is a sub-divided flat and is occupied by a "phoenix", then having an open mind would be pretty good for business, so good that medical attention would be needed. And also, we'd be the "phoenix"...
Peter, the reason why *they* the mainlanders from nearby Guangdong has to be kept at bay in regulated numbers is because of the "cultural similarities" yet extreme "quality disparity" between the two locations: Hong Kong and nearby mainland. Hong Kong welcomes educated mainlanders of quality from other provinces but not these unregulated from nearby that swarm in in millions.Hong Kong's unique culture and system is being infiltrated and worn down by the *mass* numbers of nearby province mainland tourists, and they come in MASSES, i don't mind if they come and are polite but they are obnoxious (and brainwashed by mainland censorship), alot of strain on the old ways of Hong Kong that are already heavily eroded.
Hong Kong is an international city, you are right, not an *intra-national* city. We should get more international tourists to come, now it's like 80% of the tourists are from mainlands and only 20% are from international. Just compare the customer demographs of TST's Louis Vuitton shop 10 years ago and today: see the change? Same scenario as for our education's international students demographs, counts almost 90% of foreign students are students from China, only a minor is really from "the outside world", compare this to Singapore and South Korea, our education system and our city is like going the wrong direction:
Hong Kong has become China's new top internal "intra-national" city rather than the world's *international city* like the old days.
I feel very puzzled to the terms "international" and"intra-national", and someone prefers International visitors more than those from mainlands. It smells like racism, against Mainlander.
Most of HK citizens would be very glad to have more International visitors spending money here and create more job opportunities. However, we have to face the reality - any particular attractions in HK for International tourists (who have a lot of choices)?
I hate to put "ideology" ahead of "reality". We have to develop and build on solid grounds, which must be real.
If you think Hong Kong has boomed since 2003 because we allow a few people to come on the train, you have no understanding of Hong Kong's economy, our role in promoting the PRC economic recovery since 1979 nor or our economic history. Clappity clappity clap trap




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